You can call it a hack-a-thon. But they're calling it a Jersey Shore Come-Back-A-Thon.
Marathon Data Systems, a Wall Township-based software company, is hosting a more than 24-hour brainstorming session for software programmers beginning Saturday at the CoWerks office facility at 630 Mattison Ave., Asbury Park.
The company is inviting about 50 programmers to create an application designed to aid Jersey Shore businesses as they prepare for their first summer after Hurricane Sandy. Though creativity is encouraged, the Marathon Data CEO Chris Sullens said the ideal is to design a navigational app that alerts residents and visitors which businesses are open.
The issue hits home for a Shore-based business like Marathon Data, which has sponsored hack-a-thons before but this is the first such event organized by the company.
"We've all been through the Sandy experience," Sullens said. "In terms of a theme, we thought instead of doing something like a game, we could do something good for the community and help businesses get back on their feet this summer."
Sullens also hopes the event will connect the company to talent for future employment possibilities or other business relationships in the local technology sector. With annual revenue of more than $20 million, Sullens said Marathon Data employs 105, up from 40 five years ago. The company provides work order management software and apps for the service industry, such as lawn care, pest control and HVAC companies.
Hack-a-thons, contrary to any destructive impulse the name might imply, is a term technology advocates use to describe creative sessions where software specialists generate new programs and applications from scratch.
New Jersey Restaurant Association President Marilou Halvorsen said initiatives like this are needed, especially with Memorial Day about a month away.
"We have to start to get the word out," Halverson said. "Anything creative like that is going to help."
Halvorsen said intense media coverage of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy hasn't been matched by reports of progress and reconstruction, leaving a negative public impression of the Shore's condition.
"There are images in people's minds of roller coasters in the ocean," she said. "Now the boardwalk is fine. Piers are reconstructed."
Sullens said Marathon Data plans to help any successful effort get their product to market. The event, which spans from 9 a.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday, will award the wining team with $1,000 and offer two additional $600 prizes to participants.